Henhouse Prowlers share bluegrass in Rwanda

Henhouse Prowlers have returned to Africa on another cultural exchange mission for the US government. Here is a report from banjo picker Ben Wright on their time in Rwanda.

The school we performed at near Rubavu, Rwanda. This kind of scenery was common, to say the least.To be honest, Rwanda knocked us off our feet and left us stunned from the moment we arrived. Kigali (the capital) stands tall and teems with life, all while maintaing a level of cleanliness and order that you seldom see anywhere. Still, it wasn’t until we headed out into the countryside that we saw what an incredible and unique part of Africa we were in.

Our first full day of work involved a trek out to Rubavu, in the northwest part of the country. Getting there meant driving over massive rolling hills; through lush jungle and passing several volcanos. After a short interview on a local radio station, we settled in and worked with some musicians at the School for Arts and Music.

The students started off by playing some traditional Rwandan music for us before we gave a short presentation on bluegrass. It was one of those moments on these trips that reminds you why this is an exchange and not just a series of performances.

Here is a Rwandan country band covering Don Williams’ We Got Love.


In return we asked them on stage with us later than night for a performance of Chop My Money.


Come Thursday we had a chance to sit down with a group of musicians at the Kigali School of Music. As we walked onto the property there was a band playing really tight and authentic blues. This band would have easily fit into a number of clubs in Chicago.


Henhouse Prowlers interact with Rwandan musiciansDuring the following workshop It felt like we had a chance to connect on an deeper level with several of the people there. These kinds of connections aren’t easy to put into words.

Side note: As we were about to leave this event, a young man approached us and wanted share his experience as a ‘working’ musician in Rwanda. He told us that while he is able to get up to five gigs a week, it’s never enough to pay his bills and that other work outside of music is essential to continue playing on a semi-professional level. These conversations like this that give us perspective on the the music industry in our own country, as well as others. Perspective like this is a gift.

Students at the University of Rwanda have an impromptu jam session on bluegrass instruments.Our final day was a blowout.  We drove out the opposite direction from Kigali and played at the University of Rwanda in Butare.

​Dan gets an Inanga lesson while Starr discusses guitar theory and plaid shirts.It’s important for us to give our regards to both the US State Department and all the people we met and played with in Rwanda. It’s a country that has recovered from tragedy in ways we couldn’t have imagined. Both the Rwandan people and US Ambassador Erica J Barks-Ruggles (and her wonderful staff, namely Rebecca Danis) welcomed us into their homes and we’re grateful.

If you want to get a sense of how crazy the night got when we played the University of Rwanda, check out this video:


Finally, If you want to see how unbelievably gorgeous Rwanda is, check out this last video. Listen closely and you can hear the band (as well as our host John Ferguson from American Voices) talk about how close Dan and Jon got to the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was about a mile from the hotel we stayed at in Rubavu, and it’s one of the more mysterious and troubled places on the planet.


Next stop, Zambia!